Thursday, July 28, 2016

Bhutan and IRRI strengthen partnership in rice research and development

Nim Dorji, director general of Bhutan's Department of Agriculture, and Jackie Hughes, IRRI deputy director general for research.

THIMPHU, Bhutan—The Royal Government of Bhutan and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) recently agreed to revive and strengthen their partnership in rice research and development. Both parties reinforced the partnership as Bhutan’s rice industry faces mounting challenges and emerging needs.

This was the focus of the discussion between IRRI and Bhutan in a meeting on 11 July. The IRRI delegation was led by Jacqueline Hughes, deputy director general for research (at right in photo), and Uma Shankar Singh, IRRI representative for India and Nepal. Nim Dorji, director general of the Department of Agriculture (at left in photo), and his senior staff represented Bhutan.

Bhutan had a long association with IRRI, from 1984 to 2000, and the country immensely benefited in terms of rice technologies and human resource development.

IRRI and Bhutan agreed on some rice R&D programs and activities—from improving varieties to seed distribution—to advance the country’s rice sector, according to Hughes. “These planned activities will be in accordance with a memorandum of understanding that will be formally signed soon,” she said.

“Agreed action points include the development and promotion of varieties that are high yielding with good quality and stress tolerance," said Singh. "This can be done by facilitating access to appropriate germplasm, improved rice technologies, and expertise from IRRI’s regional activities in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.”

The institute will also help improve the country’s rice varieties by transferring desired traits, such as high yield, disease resistance, and drought tolerance without sacrificing grain quality. “IRRI will facilitate the selection of parents and crossing them using both conventional and the latest molecular breeding techniques,” Hughes added. “The field evaluation and progeny selection will be done in Bhutan."

“The collaboration is also geared to help in the problem of nutrient deficiency among rice farmers and consumers,” said Singh. “Biofortified rice and micronutrient-dense rice developed by IRRI and its partners will be tested in Bhutan. Moreover, IRRI will extend its support in analyzing local rice varieties for micronutrient content among other important traits. The analysis will be a basis for developing nutritionally superior rice varieties.”

Additionally, IRRI will support in enhancing Bhutan’s capacity to develop and breed better rice varieties by sharing new technologies such as marker assisted breeding and phenotyping. “This will help ensure the conservation and sustainable use of the country’s unique traditional germplasm,” Hughes pointed out.

Mechanization and postharvest technologies are also part of the rice R&D agreement. IRRI will assist the country in solving its rural labor shortage and reduce postharvest losses from harvesting, threshing, grain drying, and storage.
To ensure that seed of improved rice varieties are available to farmers, IRRI and Bhutan will work together in seed multiplication and distribution. IRRI will assist in strengthening both the formal and informal seed sectors.

“A step closer in this direction is to help in the capacity development of extension workers and farmers in seed selection and breeder seed production for researchers,” said Singh.

Aside from offering training courses on various topics, IRRI will encourage Bhutanese scientists to participate in relevant meetings, workshops, and conferences organized by the institute.
Later this year, IRRI will invite Bhutan to participate in a regional meeting with countries who signed the regional seed cooperation agreement. That agreement between India, Bangladesh, and Nepal allows a rice variety that has been tested, approved, and released in one country to be released in other countries without undergoing further testing and evaluation, as long as they will be grown under similar agroclimatic conditions.

“We are hopeful that these activities will snowball into a more robust and productive collaboration between IRRI and Bhutan,” said Hughes. “We are excited to contribute--through research and development--to the realization of the country’s goals for its rice industry.”

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